The Bridges of Lake Oswego

by Jeff Gudman

A first-rate quality of life is not possible without a first-rate infrastructure and that includes the bridges that connect us to our neighbors and colleagues.

Did you know Lake Oswego owns nine bridges? It’s true, and that doesn’t even include Oregon’s Highway 43 Oswego Creek bridge. All nine bridges are made of concrete, which is a strong material, especially when coupled with steel. According to the city’s 2015 bridge evaluation report, one bridge is rated “very good”, three are rated “good” and five are rated “fair”. Those ratings are based on a variety of factors including age, material, weather exposure etc. The report’s findings do not mean any of the nine bridges will fall or break, but it does mean some of the bridges should be replaced sooner, rather than later.

In January 2018 the American Road and Transportation Builders Association estimated approximately 54,000 of the country’s approximately 612,000 bridges are “structurally deficient”. These structurally deficient bridges have an average age of 70 years and have average daily vehicles crossings of approximately 3,200.

Compare those figures to Lake Oswego’s bridges: The average age (from date of construction/reconstruction) of the 9 bridges is only 46 years, but the average for our four oldest bridges is 66 years. The average traffic for the nine Lake Oswego bridges is 5,799 times a day, and it’s 3,468 times per day for the oldest 4 bridges.

What does a 66 years average for the oldest four bridges mean? The bridges are wearing out. We can see it with the recent closure of vehicular traffic on the Lakewood Bay on North Shore Bridge and the previous weight restrictions on two other bridges – Springbrook Creek at Summit Drive bridge and the Southern Pacific Railroad overpass bridge.

The City’s Capital Improvement Program (CIP) list six bridges in need of replacement including the above three mentioned. The estimated unfunded replacement cost is $24.1 million. The City’s engineering department is working diligently to secure grants from the state government. The State budget faces demands and thus far, the City has been unsuccessful in securing a grant(s) for bridge(s) replacement.

The question is…….not do the bridges need replacing but when and how are they to be paid for? I have a plan that I think will work over 13 – 15 years (depending on inflation), starting with the recently closed Lakewood Bay Bridge that has an estimated replacement cost including roadwork, of approximately $4 million.

The City’s Capital Reserve Fund has approximately $1.8 million assuming the athletic/pool facility does not increase above the recent projection of $36 plus million. Our Street Fund has a healthy reserve of about $5 million, although using those dollars will push some transportation projects out a year or two. And there is a potential for additional state and/or federal funds depending on the outcome of the North Shore Bridge/road assessment and the federal government’s infrastructure package. That means there is enough money available to move forward with the North Shore Bridge/road replacement, which will likely take a couple of years to complete.

What about the remaining 5 bridges? In 2027, the East End Urban renewal district can be shut down having fulfilled its mission revitalizing downtown. That “frees up” approximately $2.3 million dollars a year which over the subsequent 13 – 15 years can be used to replace a bridge every 1 to 4 years, depending on order of replacement and cost.

Does this spending plan mean that some shiny new projects may need to be delayed? Perhaps. But, when you do not spend enough on existing infrastructure or cut infrastructure funding to spend elsewhere, it is like a sugar high, brief and ultimately unsatisfactory.

Just as in science and technology, ongoing infrastructure spending provides learning through iteration. Not only do people responsible for executing these projects learn how to do the next one better, but your elected leaders learn about the value of not reinventing the wheel.

Cutting infrastructure is easy because the costs are unforeseen for decades. The challenge has been to not consider infrastructure spending largely either as a form of periodic upsurges or something to be ignored until it becomes impossible to ignore. Simply put, we must consistently support infrastructure sending – and accept the tradeoffs that entails – to ensure a high quality of life.

A first-rate quality of life is not possible without a first-rate infrastructure. Let’s move forward on replacing the North Shore Bridge on Lakewood Bay.

Jeff Gudman

Past Member – Lake Oswego City Council 2011 – 2018

4088 Orchard Way


Please note the column is a reflection of my views and not necessarily those of the City Council

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